Introducing Our New Coop and Brood

Our coop after assembling on its foundation and painting.

Our coop after assembling on its foundation and painting.

Brad, left; AK, right

Brad, left; AK, right

I haven't written in over a month because we've been incredibly busy with travel, friends, and family. In early October AK and I flew to Orlando for an LGBT conference held at Disney World. Our stay was cut a bit short when Hurricane Matthew threatened Florida. We were able to get an early flight out of Orlando on Thursday, the day the storm approached the coast, and flew to Detroit where we would both be standing in our friends' wedding that weekend. The wedding was absolutely perfect and we left on Sunday so AK could be at work on Monday. My parents arrived in LA at the end of that week for a two week visit and that's where our chicken coop story (sort of) begins...

I started working on the coop project this past May when I stumbled upon a coop house at our local Habitat for Humanity Resale Store. I went there seeking lumber to build a coop from scratch and came away with a fully constructed kid's playhouse that was absolutely perfect for coop conversion. After renting a flat bed to bring the coop home I had to disassemble it, carry it down the hill to the lower garden, and reassemble it on a raised foundation I'd made. The raised foundation allows for hillside flooding to pass underneath the coop while also adding additional protection from predators.

I added a double compartment nesting box on the back of the house and then commenced the arduous task of fencing the perimeter with heavy duty hardware cloth. My work slowed significantly over the summer with LA temperatures hitting triple digits. I smashed my thumb and took a week off. Then I wrecked my knee and took six weeks off. And that brings us to two weeks ago when my mom arrived. And when mom arrives, stuff gets done!

A bit about mom: She's awake before the neighborhood roosters, pacing by 7am, and by 8am has given up any hope of us waking up to help so she goes it alone- coyote-proofing the fencing, erecting roosts, and carrying bucket upon bucket of dirt into the chicken yard. I'd saunter down an hour later where she'd be waiting for me to help lift support beams and roll out bales of unruly hardware cloth. By the last day of her visit we'd completely finished the coop and were adding the finishing touches of locks and latches... trying to think like raccoons and coyotes who are known to outfox even the most clever coop builders.

Check out the slideshow of coop building from site selection to completion...

A few days before my folks left we drove to Pomona where we found a late season selection of week-old pullets (i.e. females. we can't have roosters in the city) at Pomona Feed & Fuel. I selected two Buff Orpingtons, one Silver Lace Wyandotte, and one Black Sex Link (aka Black Star). I wanted to keep our total brood size to about six, so that left room for two adoptees from LA Animal Services. The following day mom and I drove to the Van Nuys shelter where we found two beautiful red hens, unknown varieties, that had been surrendered a couple weeks prior. And that's when chicken keeping took an unexpected turn.

The morning of our shelter visit I had checked their website to be sure the hens were still available. Scrolling through the listings I came across the most peculiar and vibrant bird, listed as a "yellow dove". I'd never heard of a yellow dove and Google searches turned up no such creature. At the shelter I asked if I could take a look. They brought out the bird—which had just received vet approval to be adopted out—and handed it to me in the lobby.

First of all, you can't do that to me! If I touch an animal at a shelter, I adopt it. I'm weak. It's cruel preying on my heart like that. Second, I should not be allowed within 20 yards of something brightly colored. Yellow, you say? I'll take it! And so I did.

The shelter had no idea why the bird was yellow. A cockatoo experiment? A Magic Marker accident?

Unfortunately, I'm 99% sure the color is neither natural nor accidental. The dove is actually a homing pigeon and therefore most likely bred for and released as a party favor. Perhaps dyed to match a bridal party and released at a wedding? Yeah, that's a thing.

We've probably all seen "pure white dove releases" (though pigeons are usually used) during wedding scenes of movies. Those pigeons have a strong instinct to return home after release, but occasionally not all make it back. Read this fascinating story to find out why. When actual doves are used, the majority do not have skills to survive in the wild and die of starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, disease, stress, or predation.

All animals are naturally beautiful. No animal should be dyed. My adopted pigeon has at some point been dipped head to toe in neon yellow dye. It was found malnourished and brought into the shelter. I adopted it to stop any further abuse. The second they placed it in my hands and I saw its gentle eyes, felt its warmth, I couldn't possibly leave the shelter knowing someone might stick it in a small cage. I HATE CAGES! If you ever see a bird cramped in a cage, please say something. If you ever hear of a bride planning a dove release, please say something. It's selfish and it's abuse.

I've named our pigeon "Kuu", as in "coo", the sound pigeons and doves make. But Kuu is also Finnish for "moon". Our glowing white—and for awhile longer, glowing yellow—peaceful moon bird. She (okay, I haven't checked gender yet, but for now it's 'she') is living with the chickens where she has a 16 foot long, 7 foot high yard for free flight. She has her own protected roost inside the coop and another platform in the yard. She's eating, drinking, flying, and cooing but still underweight. We have no idea how old she is or even if she'll survive the stress of her recent history. She's understandably apprehensive and shy. A story to be continued.

"Pretty Girl" and "Pheasant" - Those names gotta go!

"Pretty Girl" and "Pheasant" - Those names gotta go!

Meanwhile, the two adopted hens are adapting well to their new home. They don't have names yet, but the hen we've been calling "pretty girl" laid her first white egg yesterday. Today she laid her second egg while I was in the pen with the chicks. I felt honored that she trusted me to stay. The other hen, who I've temporarily called "pheasant" due to her long red tail feathers, has yet to lay.

The four chicks absolutely loved their first day outside today. They took their first sand baths and napped in the sun. They are now two weeks old and appear anxious to leave their indoor brooding box now that they've had a taste of the great outdoors. However, they'll likely stay inside a couple more weeks until they can handle hen-pecking and cool night temperatures.

Pretty Girl's first two eggs.

Pretty Girl's first two eggs.

Here's a video of the chicks playing in the sand for the first time:

Naming the chickens is still a work in progress, but when asked what they'd name the chicks, our nieces and nephew came up with "Cluckers", "Goldie", and "Egg". Kind of great names if you ask me :) Here are the girls at 1 week old:

"Goldie" - Buff Orpington - brown eggs

"Goldie" - Buff Orpington - brown eggs

"Cluckers" - Silver Wyandotte - brown eggs

"Cluckers" - Silver Wyandotte - brown eggs

(unnamed) - Buff Orpington - brown eggs

(unnamed) - Buff Orpington - brown eggs

"Egg" - Black Sex Link (Black Star) - brown eggs

"Egg" - Black Sex Link (Black Star) - brown eggs

I should probably say that that completes our brood, buuuuut we theoretically have room for another hen and it sure would be fun to have some blue-green eggs mixed in with the whites and browns. So maybe an Araucana is in our future? Only if AK is on-board and only if one comes up for adoption. Adoption was my promise to this project from day one.